Learning to Give Presentations Well (Part 3)

See Part 1 and Part 2.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

I can remember my Air Force ROTC class on communications skills where we had to put together a “talking paper” and give a presentation to the class. We were advised to practice with our peers before the class. Several folks did so, and still did poorly when it came time to give their presentations. Why? It’s because although they practiced, they didn’t practice “perfectly.” Let’s look into what that’s like.

Gather People You Know Will Give You the Truth

If you’re learning to present, you need to know what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. The knowing wrong part is especially important because a lot of times we don’t realize we have a bad habit or issue and it takes someone pointing this out. When we start working with a new speaker in Toastmaster, the mentor should be available to help that person prepare for their icebreaker speech. Part of this is to give feedback¬†before the actual presentation. Truth be told, some folks need several attempts to practice before they are ready even for that initial speech.

After the initial speech, and after every speech for that matter, in Toastmasters there’s an evaluator assigned. The evaluator talks about the good and the bad. Even great speeches have something about them which the speaker can improve upon. As a result, in good Toastmasters clubs, you’ll hear evaluators say things like, “It’s a great speech for all the reasons I’ve already given. If there is one thing you might be able to improve upon…” Obviously, if a talk needs a lot more than that, the evaluator may remark on a few things, but usually focuses down to one thing to work on for the next speech. When giving this feedback, the evaluator is supposed to be honest, but kind. The criticism is supposed to be constructive and encouraging.

If you’re preparing for a presentation, you want the same kind of feedback. Gather folks who will be honest with you, but in a constructive way. If it takes a few attempts to polish your talk, that’s okay. Listen to the feedback, think about how you might incorporate it, and try again. Each attempt to improve moves you towards that perfect practice.

Practice in Similar Conditions

If you’re giving a talk, practice with the conditions that you expect where you’re giving a talk. Have the lights dimmed. Have the projector going. Make sure someone’s running a clock to keep track of how long or how short your practice session goes. If you make a mistake or have a glitch with the demo, don’t stop unless it’s catastrophic. Instead, recover and continue. After all, such an issue might happen during your actual talk. Plan to have time for questions. Your “test viewers” should expect to give you a few.

Most of All, Practice

If you want to give a solid presentation, you have to practice your talk. I had a lot of experience talking and presenting. I was a drug/alcohol prevention specialist in college, I gave briefings to colonels and senior federal civilians my whole time in the Air Force, and I had taught Sunday school and led children’s ministry programs for years before I ever gave my first technical presentation at SQL Saturday Jacksonville. However, that first session I ran out of time. I was rushing the last part of my talk and there was no time for questions. Even though I was a practiced speaker, I wasn’t a practiced technical presenter. I learned from that experience and became a better presenter. However, I still attempt to practice, at least solo, before I give any talk. You’ll find the best speakers often practice a lot. That’s part of what makes them the best speakers. Don’t neglect practice!


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